Rocks into Wine? One French Winemaker Is Making It Happen

We’ve heard of turning water into wine, but rocks into wine? Now that seems impossible. However, it turns out that the rocks of the Walla Walla Valley actually work miracles with the wine that is produced there. It only took one pioneering Frenchman to be brave enough to risk everything to figure that out.

“It was a lot of work,” Christophe Baron tells the Wine Enthusiast. “I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have any equipment. I came with all of my savings, and thankfully, I was able to get some vines. I was starting really from scratch as a French guy coming to Walla Walla.”

Rocks_Into_Wine
Wine Enthusiast Colby Kuschatka.

What Baron didn’t realize at the time, however, was that he had struck pay dirt. Intrigued by the Washington-Oregonian terrain that echoed that of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of his native France, he decided upon first inspection that he was going to plant his vineyard right then and there. 

Of course, not everyone was as confident in his decision.

The Dominance of Syrah

These stones speak volumes.#wallawallawine #therocksdistrict #wegotthefunk#thestonesspeak

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It was the spring of 1996 and Syrah was the new “it” grape in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone was trying their hand at it, but no one expected the results that came out of Baron’s land. 

“When I tasted those first Syrahs [of Baron], I thought, ‘It must be some French technique,’” remembers Richard Funk, owner of Saviah Cellars in Walla Walla. “There was an aromatic profile that was so different and so unique from anything else that I was tasting.”

The taste was so dramatic and his success so marked that suddenly everyone started to descend on The Rocks, as this region of the Walla Walla Valley is known as.

Today this area is well-known for its distinctive aroma and flavor profile it gives the wines produced here.

The Nuances of The Rocks

While all the Syrahs coming from this region have a distinct and aromatic calling card, they also show intriguing variation in the single-vineyard bottles. The nuances are readily apparent even between Baron’s own vineyards, Cayuse Vineyards, No Girls and Horsepower Vineyards.

“For me, it’s all about each site and the personality and individuality of each site,” says Baron. “That has been my goal since Day One. That’s what I am completely obsessed by.”

This obsession to harness the natural flavors of the terroir has paid off. More than 50 of Baron’s wines have earned 95 points or more from Wine Enthusiast. Not to mention the fact that there is a years-long waitlist to purchase any of his wines.

However, Baron claims, “As a vigneron, I’ve just scratched the surface. For me, the wines are very good, but they can be so much better.”

We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Read More: Pinot Noir: Why It Should Be in Your Pantry + 5 Recipes for Perfect Pairing